Work Decor: Plans For the Office

We live in a pretty standard suburban home. It’s a tri-level — a close cousin of the bi-level, the ranch, the raised ranch, and other forgettable late 50s-70s designed homes. I read somewhere that a tri-level was designed, based on the 50s notion of the family — kids were upstairs, wife was in the middle with the kitchen and the living room, and the husband had the lower level and the garage. I guess nobody wanted to hangout together in the 1950s.

Most people don’t like their square footage divided up that way anymore, so houses like ours fetch a lower price than other designed home. If we had more of a choice when we were shopping for home, we probably wouldn’t have picked this house. But we were buying a slice of the community, and not the house, when we went house hunting.

We’ve had to put some money into the home over the years, because it was built in 1959 and the previous owners stopped renovating it back in the 1980s. We’ve gotten a new roof, new boiler, new kitchen. There’s a new driveway going in right now. At this point, I’m not that interesting in dumping money into the house, when there are college payments to make, but basic maintenance has to happen.

One of the mandatory, but boring expenses on our horizon, is new siding. The previous siding is original to the house. It’s old. There are bees boring into the cedar shingles. It’s not energy efficient. It’s time for a change.

When one redoes the exterior of a house, it’s the perfect time to make other changes. We might swap out the original bay window in the living room with a modern casement window, put in a new front door, and enlarge the windows over the garage; they look like squinty eyes. We’re also thinking about fixing the office.

My office/guest room is a bonus room off the ground floor family room. It’s very brown and dark. We haven’t touched it, since we moved in about eight years ago. But this red-headed stepchild of a room is where I spend most of time. I need a change. (Including a new standing desk, but more later on that.)

If we’re putting in new windows elsewhere, maybe we’ll do it here, too. It needs more than a good coat of paint. It needs help.

Here are some pictures of Office Pit.

I have to get a contractor over here to find out how much it will cost to gut the room and start over. It would be nice to put in some French doors to the side yard and get more natural light in the room. We need some overhead lights and a coat of paint on everything brown, at the very least.

When I’m in the thick of a writing project, my body and brain aren’t really here. For example, my brain in a school in Arizona at the moment. But my back is demanding better treatment. I have to be more present in my surroundings, while I’m working. So, a better room to work is moving from the wish-list expense column to a mandatory expense column.


OPINION: Out of necessity, I taught my son to choose a college for its value, not its prestige or vibe — My latest in The Hechinger Report

Without photoshopping his face onto the body of a water polo athlete, like some of the parents caught up in the recent U.S. college cheating scandal, I could have prepped my older son, Jonah, for college like a prize pumpkin at the county fair.

Starting when he was in middle school, I could have taken a stronger role in overseeing his schoolwork by editing his papers, re-teaching certain subjects and hiring tutors in others. I could have checked his online gradebooks daily. I could have supervised homework and nudged him to schmooze with teachers. In high school, we could have hired one-on-one tutors to prepare him for standardized tests. I could have pushed him to take on leadership positions in clubs he didn’t care about. I could have written his essay and filled out the Common Application for him.

Lots of parents do these tasks; most aren’t even considered cheating. It’s just how things are done these days among many upper- and middle-class families.

With our backgrounds in higher education, my husband and I have more relevant skills than many other families in our community. We likely could have micromanaged our kid into Harvard. But we didn’t. Between our son’s stubborn resistance to our help, and our own ethics and laziness, we did very little to turn our kid into a tidy package for colleges. Instead, I taught my son how to be a good education consumer.

More here.

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Busy, busy week. Last week, I lost a lot of time kinda mourning my kids’ departure for school. I got used to having the beasties around the house, and it was really quiet when they left. This week, I got over it and had to deal with a work backlog. (Article coming out on Monday at one venue. A big one in the works at another venue.)

That’s why I’m just getting to the blog now. It’s 8:30 on a Friday night, and I’m two glasses of wine into the weekend. Just links for you punks tonight.

Everyone keeps telling me that this running bra is fantastic and cheap. I bought a four pack.

I’m completely addicted to Nicole Cliffe’s tweets. She does a lot of pop culture with an occasional tweet about autism. And, like me, she also reads the blog, Crazy Days and Nights. It was talking about dirtbags like Weinstein and Epstein LONG before everyone else. If you read regularly, it also refers to other people who haven’t gone down yet. I don’t want to get sued, so you’ll have to read to figure it out. She links to a recent post there, which is probably about Don Henley.

I was being a little pouty about having to pay for a subscription to The Atlantic given my history, but whatever. Finally paid, but did it in Ian’s name, so I could get a student rate. Take that! Anyway, I still have to read the George Packer article. I think my article on Monday is sorta the anti-Packer article, but I’m not sure, since I haven’t read Packer yet.

There are quite a few apps and services that were developed for younger people, but are surprising great for old people and disabled people. I’m going to order my mom a month supply of Hello Fresh. She still wants to cook for my dad, but is getting tired of doing the whole thing. They take Ubers into the city now to see their concerts at Lincoln Center. My dad was seriously driving up the West Side Highway going 40 MPH and people were beeping at him. It was time for a change. What else?

Higher Ed’s Really Bad Year

Back in 2003, I wrote a blog post on the original Apartment 11D blog about higher ed. I predicted that a lot of mid-level colleges would start closing, that prices were too high, and that the current system was going to increasingly serve the rich.


Between the college cheating scandal, which pretty showed everyone that the admissions system is rigged, and now the slowly unraveling Epstein scandal, which shows how researchers are willing to dance with perverts for money, people are getting cynical.

There are several good new books about higher education, including Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes Us or Breaks Us. The Hechinger Report has a good review. The Atlantic has an excerpt, but I can’t read it behind the paywall.

I’m pressed for time this afternoon, but I just want to point you all to one lovely report out of Georgetown. On page 4, I stole this chart.

People who go to a community college and get an AA degree in a STEM field earn more after graduation, than people who graduate from a four-year college with a BAs. (And everyone keeps telling me about the bad outcomes for those Psychology majors.) Make good choices, people!

Next Steps

Privilege comes in many different forms. The most obvious forms of privilege — income, race, and gender — are frequent topics of conversation. Other forms of privilege – intact families, educated parents, extended families, natural talents — are acknowledged, but are usually mentioned more frequently by conservative commentators and sociologists. In my world, there’s a third type of privilege that looms large. It’s the privilege of having a typical brain.

As a parent of a kid with high functioning autism, I’m in a grey area. Many of my friends have children with higher levels of disfunction than my kid. When we meet up for drinks, they tell me their stories of paperwork hell, of kids whose obsessions take their families to the brink of sanity, of their hopes that their children can one day work in a supermarket. I keep my mouth shut and listen. They don’t want to hear that my kid is taking the PSATs next month and is marching with the band.

If I go out with friends with typical kids and they tell me about their teenagers who pass their drivers’ test and shop for prom dresses, I keep my mouth shut and listen. They don’t want to hear that my kid won’t be able to get a drivers license, not because he couldn’t operate the car, but because it takes social skills to navigate a four-way stop sign.

I tend to not share too much about my kid with other parents, because he is privileged compared to some and less privileged compared to others. But since this is my blog, I’m going to spew here.

Ian’s going to graduate from high school in less than two years and I don’t have a clear plan about what to do with him. While it is tempting to see if I could get him into an elite, four-year college, I think it’s not the right path for him. He would do fantastic in certain classes, but be at sea in a dorm and would struggle with gen ed requirements.

High schools are required to educate kids until they are 21, but those programs are aimed at kids who are much more disabled. Those programs focus on teaching kids how to work manual labor jobs and how to be independent. He would be in classes with kids who have much lower IQs and would need extensive help just learning self-help tasks like making a sandwich. Ian is more independent than my typical college kid.

I spent hours researching colleges for autistic kids last week, but those programs are very expensive. I also don’t think he needs that type of education. He really just needs a piece of paper that says he can program computers and then be put in front of a computer for a job. He can program for 12 hours a day and never get tired. He’s that weird prodigy that you read about from time to time.

I went back and forth for days last week. Should he go to an 18-21 program, which would be free and would teach him basic job skills that any kid needs? Lots of typical kids have summer jobs in a supermarket, so it wouldn’t hurt him to learn how to bag groceries. But he’ll get bored really quickly.

Should I send him to a community college, where aside from the computer classes, he would be totally isolated and wouldn’t get support for his weaknesses? That unstructured environment would be stressful for him. In some ways, he’s a 12-year old, who needs grown-up support.

After going back and forth for days, I decided that instead of thinking about this decision as “an either/or,” I would think of this as an “and.” He can do both. From 9-3, he can learn to bag groceries, and from 3-9, he can go to the community college and learn C++ and Java. Fingers crossed.

My experiences with Ian have given me a taste of the experiences of people and families who have less privilege than ours. Ian will be in classes with kids who have more financial struggles. I’m worried about his ability to have a job that will pay his rent. I have a lot of other worries, too, but my concerns about the job prospects for people without a BA put us in the same boat as kids from poorer backgrounds.

I have no road map. I know about four-year colleges and careers. I can help my older son through that terrain. I don’t know much about alternatives. That’s partially why I’ve been writing about that topic a lot in the past year. I’m desperate for alternatives.

This experience also has pushed me way to the left on social issues in recent years. We need a social safety net for people who don’t have the privileges that take them to college and middle class jobs. Even if things work out okay for my kid, I know too many families who are struggling.

Geographic Inequality

Steve’s folks called with good news over the weekend. His mom’s brother and wife are going to retire just 20 minutes away from them in North Carolina. Steve’s folks retired to the area from Cleveland about ten years ago, and we’ve always been worried about their distance from extended family. Now, they have people to spend holidays with, when they can’t make the trip up to us.

They sent me a link on Zillow to their new house, so I spent a little time checking out the other homes in the area. Those homes — perfectly nice places with a couple of bathrooms and three bedrooms — are a quarter of the price of homes in my neck of the woods. This is why people are leaving the metropolitan regions, like Chicago and New York.

Not really a big deal, I suppose. If North Carolina can offer people a better quality of life than the older cities, then good for them. Families, like mine, that need alternative schooling options for disabled children and have work tied to the big cities can never go there, but there are many families who are more flexible. So, good for them, right?

However, if some areas of the country are homes of the rich and others are homes of the middle class, working class, and retirees, then it does open up some political problems.

Imagine if the representatives from some states become advocates not for the interests of the particular local industries, ie Iowa farmers, West Virginia coal miners, but for entire economic classes, ie New York Rich People and North Carolina Retirees. Then political debates would be less about opposing commercial interests and directly about class. I suppose it is that way now, but those economic tensions could be more obvious and competitive than they are already.

Any discussion about changing the electoral college or representation in Senate would also become strongly charged with these economic tension.

Sidenote — If we limit the voice of small population states in the electoral college and the Senate, it might make affairs more democratic, but it would also mean a massive disinvestment in the entire center of the country. There would be no federal projects for highway construction in Nebraska, say or farm subsidies in Iowa. There might be really cheap homes out there, but there would be no way to drive to those houses.

The growing affluence of big cities is going to have long term political implications.

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David Brooks’ column about evil twitter commenters is trending on Twitter. Based on the chatter, I’m guessing that a lot of people have never read Notes From the Underground.

I’m really into stacking lots of small studs on my ears lately. It feels very 1980s.

“Just A Construction Guy” on Instagram is a fake? OMG.

Books on the shelf: How to Be A Family by Dan Kois from Slate looks interesting. Next Year in Havana was a nice summer book. I should have been tackling a new project this morning, but work just isn’t happening today. Some days are like that. I gave up at some point and read this. Then I went for a two mile walk, while chatting with my BFF on the cellphone. And now, I need to get my white streaks covered up, a haircut, and a blowout. Because it’s Friday, and we’re going out later.

Hope y’all have a good weekend. I’ve got a trip to Botanical Gardens on the calendar on Sunday. Saturday afternoon, I’ll be doing all the work that I didn’t do today.